UFC London was a dud. It’s rare that the world’s largest MMA promotion ever puts together a truly hard to watch card, but between Tom Aspinall’s injury, Chris Curtis’ flat footed co-main event, and Paul Craig’s flopping (all on top of a heap of grind-heavy prelims), this was one of the poorest action-delivering cards in recent memory. At least Paddy Pimblett and Molly McCann showed up, but that was about it.
So, what’s the best option for Curtis Blaydes to keep treading water atop the heavyweight division? Is it worth it for the UFC to try and book Jack Hermansson against Darren Till again? And how big a step up should the UFC give Pimblett next time out?
To answer those questions—but not much else—I’ll be using the classic Silva/Shelby fight booking methodology from the UFC of years past. That means pitting winners against winners, losers against losers, and similarly tenured talent up against one another. Hopefully, by following that model, a few of these bout ideas will actually make it off the page and into the Octagon. Now, let’s get to the fights!
Not much of a win for Curtis Blaydes, all things concerned, but when a fighter’s already in the top 5, any fight that doesn’t set them back has to be considered some kind of victory. Curtis Blaydes set foot in the cage against Tom Aspinall and didn’t walk away with a loss or a lower ranking, that’s really just about all he can ask short of a title shot or a performance bonus. Since Francis Ngannou is still injured and still in contract talks with the UFC, and because Blaydes is the last person anyone cares about seeing the champ fight again, it seems obvious the Blaydes will need at least one (if not several) more wins to actually compete for gold. Tai Tuivasa and Ciryl Gane are facing off in Paris in September. Especially if Gane wins, then Gane vs. Blaydes is a great fight to make—since the MMA Factory talent isn’t that far removed from his own loss to Ngannou. Either way really, though, Curtis Blaydes vs. the Gane/Tuivasa winner is a top quality booking.
If it were some kind of quicker healing injury, like an eye poke or something, I’d love to see this fight get re-booked. But, Curtis Blaydes has already said he’s not interested in running it back and, given the nature of knee injuries, there’s really no saying how quickly Tom Aspinall will be ready to return to the cage. Right now, I’d be pretty shocked to see him fight again this year. And it may be that anything short of next summer is optimistic. At that point, who can say which fighters will be ready to compete and coming off of what kind of performances? With the division as it stands right now, the obvious bookings for Aspinall would be a bout against the loser of Lewis vs. Pavlovich next week, or the loser of Tuivasa vs. Gane on September 3rd. Neither idea really has much meaning until we know more about Aspinall’s recovery. For the sake of picking something, I’ll say give Aspinall the Lewis/Pavlovich loser. Seems like it’d be a fun banger either way.
All things considered, this was a very solid performance from Hermansson, who identified Chris Curtis’ lack of kicking game pretty early and took over the fight at range from the jump. A steady diet of low kicks, head kicks, and body kicks along with a willingness to circle out and change directions left Curtis chasing Hermansson all fight and meant the Norwegian-born Swede could more or less cruise to a decision win. After the bout, the ‘Joker’ noted that he wouldn’t be opposed to a re-booked bout with Darren Till. And frankly, if he wants it, he’ll probably get it, since there isn’t really an otherwise obvious fight for the ‘Gorilla’ in the middleweight top ten right now. If Till’s not going to be back anytime soon, then fights with Derrick Brunson or Andre Muniz would also be totally fine bookings. But for now, as long as both men are willing, I’ll say go ahead and re-book Till vs. Hermansson.
Jordan Leavitt may not have been a huge step up for Pimblett coming off his first two UFC victories, but it provided another great opportunity for the Liverpudlian to put together an electric finish in front of a home crowd. Of course, the downside to that is that it’s going to heavily increase calls from fans to see Pimblett take a big step forward. I still think a fight against Jim Miller is one of the best bookings the UFC can offer the ‘Baddy’ right now. But fights with Grant Dawson, Claudio Puelles, or Joe Solecki would also be some interesting, serious challenges. I’ll keep beating the Jim Miller vs. Paddy Pimblett drum as long as I can. Both men are coming off another set of thrilling victories, both can compete everywhere, and Miller has made a habit of showing young fighters a thing or two in the Octagon.
This couldn’t have gone better for Nikita Krylov. Alexander Gustafsson may not be the fighter he once was, but he’s still one of the biggest name opponents of Krylov’s career and the first time he’s turned a big fight opportunity into a win. After the fight, the ‘Miner’ called out Volkan Oezdemir, who got a hard won victory over Paul Craig further down the card. It’s a great fight and a fun matchup, no question. If the UFC wants to go that route, then I have no problem with it. But, I never like to match fighters up off the same event if I can avoid it. It just feels lazy. Instead, fights with Dustin Jacoby or Ryan Spann would also work great for Krylov. I really think that fight with Jacoby would especially be a ton of fun to watch. Two men who love to throw in volume. And with Krylov’s wrestling in his back pocket, it’d be another test to see if Jacoby’s takedown defense is on point. Krylov vs. Jacoby would be a hell of a lot of fun.
Hannah Goldy hung tough with McCann for a few minutes, but once her takedown game didn’t get off the ground, McCann started to find more and more confidence flurrying forward with power. Eventually McCann stuffed a shot and landed an immediate hard followup that had Goldy rocked. A short flurry later and the fight was over. All of a sudden ‘Meatball’ is riding a three fight win streak, and it’s time to start pushing her back toward the edges of the top 15.
Fights with Amanda Ribas, Tracy Cortez or Erin Blanchfield would all be fine ideas to that end. The UFC could also pair her up with Antonina Shechenko or JJ Aldrich if they don’t want to throw her too far up the division. All things considered, I think the Shevchenko fight is the way to go. It’d be a striker with enough range to make McCann think twice from distance and enough of her own wrestling and grappling to not be a walkover on the mat. Molly McCann vs. Antonina Shevchenko feels like the right kind of step forward for Liverpool’s own.
It wasn’t pretty, and Paul Craig did absolutely everything he could to bring his fight to Volkan Oezdemir, but ‘No Time’ was well prepared to fight off Craig’s grappling attack—shucking leg locks and guard pulls for three solid rounds to land his own ground and pound and the better strikes standing. The end result wasn’t a thriller, but it was a clear decision win for the former title contender. A bout with Ryan Spann wouldn’t be the worst next step possible for Oezdemir, but he’s probably looking to fight his way back up the division. With a bout between Thiago Santos and Jamahal Hill upcoming, the winner of that fight could be just the kind of matchup the Austrian is looking for. Oezdemir vs. the Santos/Hill winner is a rock solid bout.
It may not have resulted in a finish, but Nathaniel Wood put together an absolutely dominating performance in his featherweight debut. Wood started out the fight landing crushing low kicks on Charles Rosa. Coupled with hard hooks up top and a strong counter-wrestling game, Rosa wasn’t left with many other options than to bite down on his mouthpiece and swing for the fences as best he could. It’s a great way for the ‘Prospect’ to announce his presence in his new weight class and it should mean an immediate bump up toward the top 15 next time out. That leaves me with a pretty obvious choice, honestly. There’s another former bantamweight that’s been making his name at 145 as an action-forward fighter: Ricardo Ramos. Ramos may have hit a setback against Zubaira Tukhugov, but an electrifying KO over Danny Chavez quickly reminded fans that he can be a thrill to watch. Wood vs. Ramos seems like guaranteed fireworks.
Pearce’s surprising success in the UFC continues. His combination of cardio and hard-nosed scrambling has paid off to the tune of four-straight victories. Makwan Amirkhani had him in a couple bad spots early, but Pearce never let him settle on a position and sapped his gas tank badly as the fight continued. Coming off this win it feels like Pearce should really be in there against another top rising prospect in the featherweight division. There’s Lerone Murphy, Ryan Hall (whenever he may return from injury), Billy Quarantillo, or Hakeem Dawodu. Of those, Murphy seems like the most obvious choice. He’s been rolling up the featherweight ranks and is fresh off his own victory over Amirkhani. Murphy vs. Pearce is a great way for one of these two men to prove they’re ready for top 15 competition.
OTHER BOUTS: Chris Curtis vs. Uriah Hall, Jordan Leavitt vs. Viacheslav Borshchev, Alexander Gustafsson vs. Shogun Rua 2, Hannah Goldy vs. Jasmine Jasudavicius, Paul Craig vs. Dominick Reyes, L’udovit Klein vs. Ignacio Bahamondes, Mason Jones vs. Steve Garcia Jr., Marc Diakiese vs. Grant Dawson, Damir Hadzovic vs. Chris Gruetzemacher, Charles Rosa vs. Herbert Burns, Makwan Amirkhani vs. Seung-Woo Choi, Muhammad Mokaev vs. Jeff Molina, Charles Johnson vs. Carlos Candelario, Victoria Leonardo vs. Karine Silva, Mandy Bohm vs. Luana Carolina, Nicolas Dalby vs. Max Griffin, Claudio Silva vs. Ramazan Emeev
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